Turning stitches into love and generosity

In eight years, Emma Jean Landis made and donated 254 quilts and 400 comforters to MCC. And there's more...

Emma Jean Landis saw a need and found a way to fill it. She was just that kind of person.

One of the many ways the late Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, resident did so was by quilting and making comforters for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) with her daughter, Karen Alderfer, of Athens, Pennsylvania.

Over the past eight years, they sent 254 quilts ‒ from crib size to full size ‒ to 92 relief sales in 28 different locations, according to Landis’ other daughter, Kathy Landis, of Newton, Kansas, who kept track of the donations. Generous bidders at relief sales across the U.S. and Canada bought the quilts, generating over $41,000 in support of MCC.

Emma Jean Landis passed away in November but lived a life of generosity in her 82 years. She not only made quilts and comforters, but supported MCC in many other ways with her time and money.

“She was very giving of her time and of her resources and her talents,” Alderfer says. “I’m really going to miss quilting with her. It was a common interest – something for us to both be a part of that was bigger than us.”

In the beginning of their quilting partnership, Alderfer, who is a machine quilter by profession, gave her mother charm packs – a precut collection of complementary fabrics that Landis combined with other fabric to create quilt tops.

Once a top was completed, Alderfer used her long-arm sewing machine to quilt the top, batting and backing together. Her mother finished the quilt by binding the raw edges of fabric. Eventually Landis would sent the quilts to the MCC relief sales where she thought they would sell best.

Les Gustafson Zook, MCC relief sale coordinator, said that donated quilts from many quilters generated almost $1.3 million dollars at relief sales across Canada and the U.S. in 2017.

“Landis and Alderfer are wonderful examples of the lifeblood of relief sales ‒ people who offer significant time, creativity and resources to share God’s love and compassion with vulnerable people around the world,” Gustafson Zook said.

In 2018, Emma Jean Landis of Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and her daughters, Karen Alderfer, left, and Kathy Landis, right, pose for a picture. Emma Jean Landis and Alderfer worked together to make 254 quilts to donate to MCC relief sales. Photo courtesy of Ken Landis

As people became aware of the mother-daughter project, fabric donations began to pour in. Alderfer and Landis sorted through the fabric together, deciding what to keep for quilts and what to use for comforters. Using donated material, charm packs and a lot of their own fabric, Landis cut and pieced the quilt tops following traditional patterns and her own original designs.

Raising money through her quilting was just one way Landis used her sewing skills to benefit MCC. She also pieced together and donated close to 400 comforters to MCC since 2012.

MCC sends comforters around the world to help people in crisis, often those who have been displaced from their homes. Last year, MCC shipped 63,841 comforters, including those made by Landis, to places like Burkina Faso, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine and Zambia as well as Canada and the U.S.

Comforters are simpler to put together than a quilt. Often the comforter top is made of fabric squares sewn together and instead of quilting the layers together, they are knotted together.

In 2015, Emma Jean Landis brought her sisters together from over 300 miles to knot comforters with the Towamencin Mennonite Church sewing circle. Left to right: Mary Loux, Emma Jean Landis, Hannah Mack Lapp, Esther Delp and Edna Yoder. 
Photo courtesy of Kathy Landis

When the women’s group at Landis’ church, First Baptist Church in Factoryville, Pennsylvania, was looking for something to do, she suggested they start a comforter knotting circle. She made the comforters and the women knotted them together.

Likewise, when the sewing circle at Towamencin Mennonite Church in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, had no one to sew comforter tops, Landis made them for the group to knot. Her family attended Towamencin as she was growing up.

 Landis saw a need and found a way to fill it – again.

“At least eight times a year for four to five years, my mom would drive two hours south with a car full of comforters for MCC and (comforter) tops for the Towamencin sewing circle. She’d drop off the comforters at MCC, take the tops to Towamencin and pick up precut patches that she then would take home and sew into comforter tops,” Alderfer says.

Landis’ connection to MCC went beyond blankets.

From 1994 to 1998, Landis, a nurse, and her husband, Laverne, a family practice physician, served with MCC in Jamaica. Landis traveled to outlying villages to give children immunizations, provide prenatal care and offer health education classes for women.

“They were both challenging and good years,” Landis told Kathy before she died. “I enjoyed working with a local nurse and co-leading educational classes.”

She and Laverne also gave money to build two additions to Mengo Hospital Home Care and Counselling Clinic in Kampala, Uganda, to increase its capacity to help people living with HIV and AIDS. Their late daughter, Konnie, had volunteered at the clinic.

Landis also motivated the 30 people who attended First Baptist Church to donate 2,600 school and hygiene kits since 2009. 

“My mom motivated people to support MCC wherever she was at,” said Kathy Landis.

Samuel Baguma, 19, stands in the waiting area at Mengo Clinic in Uganda. Emma Jean and Laverne Landis contributed money to build two additions to the clinic, which provides physical and emotional care for people living with HIV.MCC photo/Silas Crews (2011)

Emma Jean Landis' children believe their mother’s generous legacy will live on.

“She’s inspirational,” Kathy Landis says. “She taught us to follow our passions and dreams. That’s what she did. She followed her passion of nursing, and when she retired, she switched to her other passion, which was quilting.”

Alderfer says quilting won’t be the same without her mother, but she’ll continue making quilts and comforters for MCC.

“I’ve said to my brother (Ken Landis, Watertown, New York) and my sister, 'There are pretty big shoes to fill.' She did a lot to help others. I’m trying to continue that example and to do as Christ did by showing love to others.”

To donate quilts to relief sales, visit mcc.org/get-involved/relief-sales, to find the name and contact information for each of the sales. If you are interested in making comforters, visit mcc.org/get-involved/kits/comforters for instructions or contact your regional MCC office.